The fate of the Tooele County Fair is now a federal matter.
The Tooele County Fair Board voted Monday night to delay proceeding with plans for a county fair this year until they learn the fate of the county’s federal payment in lieu of taxes.
While the 2014 county budget includes a $125,000 allocation for the fair, fair board members learned early in their meeting Monday night that funding for the fair is contingent on Congress passing the farm bill, which includes authorization for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program for 2014.
“If there is no PILT, there will be no fair,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne.
Commissioner Jerry Hurst echoed Milne’s caution.
“It’s probably best that we wait to discuss the budget for the fair until we know that PILT funding has been approved,” he said. “I don’t want to tell you that you have money and then come back later and say ‘Sorry, no you don’t.’”
PILT’s estimated $3.1 million in revenue accounts for 13 percent of the county’s $23.4 million general fund budget for 2014.
While the $125,000 allocation for the county fair comes from the county’s tourism tax fund, a review of the state imposed restrictions of the use of tourism tax dollars may mean part of the fair’s allocation will need to come from the general fund.
“We just learned today from the county attorney that the state attorney general issued an opinion that tourism taxes must be spent for things that promote tourism,” said Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg. “Tourism dollars cannot be spent on an activity that is just a community celebration. Parts of the county fair may qualify for tourism funding, others may not. We have to take a closer look at the fair budget and find other funding for things that can’t be funded by tourism taxes.”
There is a possibility that general fund money could be allocated to the fair, “but not if we don’t get PILT,” added Clegg.
Funding for at least one more year of PILT may be approved by congress this week.
A $425 million allocation for PILT is included in a conference report on the farm bill that is now being considered by Congress. The House approved the conference report with a 251-166 vote last week and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the farm bill today.
The $425 million proposed allocation for PILT is $15 million greater than the 2013 PILT allocation, which may translate into an additional $200,000 for Tooele County, said Milne.
With PILT funding uncertain and commissioners needing to evaluate the tourism tax allocation, the fair board voted unanimously to hold a meeting on March 3 to discuss the fair’s budget and elect board officers.
With the budget postponed for another month, the board turned its attention to possible events to include in the 2014 fair.
There was a consensus among board members that the livestock show, 4-H exhibitions and judging, and the Demolition Derby should continue as part of the fair in 2014. These events were conducted last year independently after the fair was canceled due to county budget cuts.
“The stock show did all right last year,” said Bob Gowans. “But it works better in conjunction with the fair.”
Ray Dixon, demolition derby organizer, is ready to go ahead with a derby in 2014 with or without the county fair.
“The organization that put on the derby last year are ready to do it again,” he said. “But I would rather see the county put on the derby and keep the money.”
Dixon and fellow derby organizer Del McQuiddy recruited Stirrin’ Dirt Racing, a West Haven, Utah-based promotion company, to help them continue the Tooele demolition derby in 2013.
Other suggestions included entertainment including concerts from outside artists as well as local talent, a military exhibition, a rock show, an archery competition, and a rodeo.
If the county goes ahead with the fair in 2014 it will take a larger volunteer effort than it has in the past, according to Hurst.
Mark McKendrick, Tooele County Parks and Recreation Director, served as the chairman of the fair board in the past, but that might need to change this year, said Hurst.
“Parks and recreation used to have a staff of 28 people that all pitched in and helped with the fair,” said the commissioner. “Now they have six people. Because of the high demand on Mark’s time, it may be best to elect a chairman from outside the staff.”
McKendrick supported Hurst’s recommendation.
“We’ve had a total shift in how we do things out here at Deseret Peak,” he said. “We no longer put on events ourselves. We manage the facility.”
In light of the county’s budget problems, which led to the layoff of employees that played an important role in the fair, the fair board voted in March 2013 to cancel the county fair.